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Five Stages of Design Thinking

Louise Jones

In this blog post we look at the five stages of the design thinking process and suggest innovative solutions for making the process as effective as possible. 

Design thinking is a process that can be used to solve complex problems and create new opportunities. Sometimes we can often spend a lot of time in team meetings problem-solving and not really getting anywhere! This is where the design thinking framework can really help. Alternatively, do you want to create or improve a product or UX design? 

This simple design process lays out your problem solving / product design  roadmap.  It is a human-centered design approach that begins with understanding your user’s needs.  It is also an iterative process enabling you to constantly evolve and improve!

The five stages of design thinking methodology are empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.  The design thinking process is visualized here in this interactive infographic designed to give you a better understanding of how it all knits together.


Click here to view the accessible version of this interactive content<

1. Empathize: The first stage of design thinking is empathize. This stage is all about understanding the needs of people (or stakeholders) through user research. To do this, designers must put themselves in the shoes of the user and understand their challenges and pain points. This can be done through research methods such as interviews, surveys, and observations. You could even create a collaborative social media exercise using hashtags / polls / brainstorming feedback activities to target users and easily collate results. Helpful Tip! Remember to keep all your evidence, it demonstrates how you have worked in human-centric ways.

2. Define: The next stage is define. Coming up with a problem statement. During this stage, designers take the information they gathered in the empathize stage and use it to identify the problem that needs to be solved. They also develop a point of view that will guide them in finding a solution.

3. Ideate: In the ideate stage, the design team generates ideas for solutions to the problem they defined in the previous stage. Ideation techniques – typically brainstorming with team members or ideation sessions with collaborative tools, ideas can be whittled down through discussion or scoring. Once a solution has been selected, it’s time to move on to the next stage. Sometimes it’s helpful to think of the worst possible idea, just to throw it out! Helpful Tip! Create a culture of no-wrong answers to enable everyone to contribute no matter how silly their idea might seem. 

4. Prototype: In this prototype stage, designers create a prototype of their solution or versions of the product. A prototype is a scaled-down version of the final product that can be used to test how well the solution works in practice.  After testing the prototype and getting feedback from users, it’s time to move on to the final stage.

5. Test: In the final testing phase, designers test their potential solution with real users in order to get feedback and make refinements before launching the product or service. After testing is complete and any necessary refinements have been made, the product or service is ready for launch!

Helpful Tips! In facilitating your design thinking process try different activities such as, creating empathy maps or fast-paced design sprints – these are great innovative ways during the ideation phase or brainstorming sessions, using hands-on techniques such as graffiti boards, collaborative idea boards or good old flip charts and post its! 

Remember, design thinking is not a linear process, it’s good to revisit your end-user’s needs or the user experience, avoid the ‘set it and forget it’, we live in an ever changing world and keep considering how you can reframe your ideas to become truly user-centric. 

In summary, design thinking is an iterative process that can be used to solve problems and create new opportunities. It is a human-centered approach that begins with the problem space, understanding the needs of people and ends with testing the possible solution with real users. The five stages of design thinking are empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. By following these steps, you can ensure that your product or service meets the needs of your users and delivers an exceptional experience.

Helpful links and further reading

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